Russia’s top diplomat suggested the country is ready to consider peace negotiations with Ukraine should Kyiv meet its key condition.
Sergey Lavrov over the weekend gave the first major indication that Moscow is prepared to end the war after 19 months.
He noted the Kremlin would recognize Ukraine’s borders before the invasion if President Volodymyr Zelensky and his Government backtracked on plans to join NATO or any other military alliance.
During an outing on Saturday, Lavrov said that the Kremlin “recognized the sovereignty of Ukraine on the basis of the Declaration of Independence which it adopted upon leaving the USSR.”
The Foreign Affairs Minister added: “One of the main points for us was that Ukraine would be a non-aligned country and would not enter into any military alliances.
“Under those conditions, we support the territorial integrity of this state.”
Ukrainian neutrality has long been a matter of contention between Kyiv and Russia, with the latter’s attempts to increasingly align itself with the European Union and other Western nations repeatedly thwarted by Moscow.
“Ukraine’s 1990 Declaration of State Sovereignty does indeed proclaim Ukraine to be a ‘permanently neutral state that does not participate in military blocs’,” George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government professor Mark N. Katz said.
He told Newsweek: “Lavrov’s statement, then, does imply that Moscow would recognize Ukraine’s 1990 borders if Ukraine foreswore membership in NATO.”
Vladimir Putin cited NATO’s alleged expansionistic plot as a key factor in his decision to launch what he first called a “special operation” into Ukraine.
However, the conflict has only exacerbated Zelensky’s commitment to join NATO and his bid has since won the support of several members.
Lavrov’s statement, while offering a glimmer of hope for peace, does not address what is likely to long remain a sticking point between Kyiv and Moscow – the future of Crimea.
Putin’s troops invaded the peninsula in 2014 and unilaterally claimed it as part of Russia, citing the desire to protect the Russian-speaking population in the region from a never-verified threat of genocide.
While in the earlier stages of the war Zelensky remained neutral on the matter of Crimea, he has since pledged to reclaim the territory and Ukraine’s defence forces have increasingly realigned their efforts on the peninsula.
Katz added: “Lavrov’s statement might not be definitive, and that there may be further ‘clarification’ about it that is not so generous toward Ukraine.
“Still, if Moscow just wants to end the war, it may be able to portray forestalling Ukraine from joining NATO as a victory even if it means renouncing Russian claims to occupied Ukrainian territory.
“But I’m not sure Putin can do this as it would raise the question of whether the enormous casualties experienced by Russian forces in this conflict were worth such an agreement—assuming that Ukraine and NATO governments would agree to it.”
Crimea has served as the key hub supporting the invasion and has increasingly come under fire by Ukraine.
Sevastopol, the main base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet since the 19th century, has had particular importance for navy operations since the start of the war.
Ukraine has increasingly targeted naval facilities in Crimea in recent weeks while the brunt of its summer counteroffensive makes slow gains in the east and south of Ukraine, the Institute for the Study of War said.
Military experts say it is essential for Ukraine to keep up its attacks on targets in Crimea to degrade Russian morale and weaken its military.
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